Even over a decade after my ill-fated and lengthy affair with a married man ended, I am still plagued by one question.
It nags at me. It eats at me.
Not only that, but I also question if it were me in her situation and I ask myself what I would do if my husband cheated on me — not only once — twice — or even three times — but over the entire course of our marriage starting from when I was pregnant and spanning over a decade.
I was not the only affair. I was not the first woman he cheated on her with and I’m damn sure I wasn’t the last.
However, I may have indeed been the most lengthy and ultimately damaging affair. The wife called me near the end of it and I did admit everything to her. It crushed her completely and made me feel like the worst kind of wretched villain. However, she still stayed with him. She has still continued to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with him. She has still put on the front of a happy marriage.
Perhaps they were and are happily married.
How could that be? Well, that would certainly depend on any given person’s idea of what a “happy marriage” entails. I know that she was not financially dependant on him — in fact, it was more like the other way around from my understanding. They had two children together as well. That’s always a factor.
Was my ex-lover abusive to me over the course of our affair? Yes, he was. Could he also have been abusive to his wife causing her to stay? Absolutely. Just the way in which he disrespected her by cheating was abusive.
From all accounts, my ex-lover’s wife knew that he was cheating on her for years, yet every time she found a clue that he was being unfaithful she would explode as if it was all brand new information. I could never quite fathom this state of mind — unless she was in some acute form of denial.
I understand that, psychologically, people often dismiss facts or details that they discover to be true because the pain of actually digesting that information and having their entire reality turned upside down is simply too unbearable.
Denial is a coping mechanism. Avoiding a truth such as your own spouse being sexually intimate with scores of women and carrying on full-fledged relationships with them throughout your entire marriage has got to be a searingly sharp reality.
Finding out that when your husband said he was working overtime he was actually at the movies with his mistress or when he was supposed to be at your daughter’s soccer game he was actually in the throes of passion with his lover has got to be utterly gut-wrenching.
Now that I’m older and married with children, I have a different perspective on what my ex-lover’s wife must have been going through. Obviously, I have never been in her exact situation but I can imagine.
I try to conjure up scenarios in my own mind as to how I would act and feel if my husband were to act as hers did.
It’s difficult to imagine. My husband is not like that man. They are not the same. One is loyal and one is not. But that’s not to say that a loyal person can’t become unloyal. I said I would never sleep with a married man. And I did. That was enough to capsize my whole moral compass for many years.
Who I thought I was — I wasn’t.
And this leads me back to the woman whom I still wonder about on occasion. I wonder how she can stay. I wonder what she’s told herself in order to stay.
I wonder how many others are out there in similar situations. When their partner tells them they’re working late but they instinctively know that’s not true. When their partner tells them that strange text or call that seems suspicious is “nothing” but in their gut, they know it is something.
So much deception. And for what? To keep living the facade of a happy relationship? To never confront the truth? The truth that a partner who vowed to be loyal has decided not to be — even if it means risking their family, their reputation, or even their own safety?
I still wonder about my ex-lover’s wife— YES. Is it guilt? Maybe. I’ll probably carry that around until I die. But I continue to gain self-reflection and empathy. I’ve grown. I’ve learned. And I’m perpetually curious as to what motivates other people.
Mistakes were made. I’m just grateful for the lessons.